NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) - Protesters formed what they called "Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone" outside the Tennessee State Capitol. It was part of the "Free Capitol Hill" rally.
The turnout so far for a protest calling to “reclaim the area formerly known as Legislative Plaza” pic.twitter.com/R0EqpMPx3W— Rebecca Cardenas (@RebeccaWSMV) June 12, 2020
Organizers said it's to take back Legislative Plaza for the people of Tennessee.
They're calling for defunding the police, demilitarizing the police, firing Metro Police Chief Steve Anderson, which some council members and the ACLU support, and removing the Nathan Bedford Forrest Bust from the State Capitol, which legislators voted not to remove from the building earlier this week.
NEW: @JohnCooper4Nash’s office issued this statement saying he “supports the constitutional rights of all Nashvillians to peacefully gather and voice their concerns about systemic racial injustice.” @WSMV pic.twitter.com/k6WIcJvjqp— Cameron Taylor (@WSMVCameron) June 12, 2020
"We're scared that if we stop, that things will go back to normal," Jonelle Christopher, who was one of the organizers, said.
Christopher said the protest is to keep the momentum going for change.
Protesters wasted no time taking action by renaming the area outside the Tennessee State Capitol. They're now calling it the Ida B. Wells Plaza.
"It's a new movement. It's a new day. It's a new time. It's a new fight and these young people are going to take the fight on," Venita Lewis, who is a civil rights activist, said.
Gov. Bill Lee released a statement ahead of Friday night's protest.
"We encourage Tennesseans to exercise their First Amendment rights and have seen many examples of peaceful protests across our state in recent weeks. As demonstrations continue, we will continue to protect Tennesseans' right to peaceful assembly, while also reassuring citizens that lawlessness, autonomous zones, and violence will not be tolerated. Further, Tennessee law expressly prohibits camping on state property not expressly designated as a campground area, and that law will be enforced."
Mayor John Cooper's office said he "supports the constitutional rights of all Nashvillians to peacefully gather and voice their concerns about systemic racial injustice."
"He encourages everyone in attendance to practice safe social distancing and to wear face coverings to protect themselves and each other. Metro’s first responders will maintain a presence downtown to protect both Davidson County residents and property."
Speaker Cameron Sexton said he "fully supports the rights of all Tennesseans to peacefully assemble."
"However, there is a difference between peaceful assembly, and lawlessness or unlawful camping, occupying, and autonomous zones on state property. The General Assembly enacted laws after Occupy Nashville making it a Class A misdemeanor to occupy state property. I agree with Governor Lee’s decision to enforce our current laws, and the House is fully prepared to enhance this type of lawlessness to a felony before the 2020 legislative session concludes next week.”
U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn tweeted ahead of the protests.
"Nashville — radical anarchists are coming to town. Please watch out. These misfits want to turn our city into Seattle."
A Nashville activist responded to Blackburn's Tweet.
Been offline, but catching up and seeing statements from Tennessee politicians stoking fear and threats today. This only makes more people want to show up and gather in nonviolent non-cooperation with this racist system.Hope to see folks there, this fearmongering won’t work. https://t.co/uLCVeepdDd— Justin Jones (@brotherjones_) June 12, 2020
More protests are expected in Nashville this weekend. There will be a march for justice in remembrance and celebration of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd and the victims of racism and police brutality on Saturday evening. It will be held at the Legislative Plaza from 5 to 7 p.m.
Follow News4 for the latest in this developing story.